My first experience at HELM Brasseur Gourmand was in early May for an end-of-the-year celebration for a student publication. Located at Parc and Bernard, I lived just around the corner of the Mile-End bar for two years, but in classic out-of-towner fashion, had always dismissed it as “that super-French bar.” On any given weeknight, there are clusters of young Montrealers partaking in a boisterous 5 à 7 after work. On Thursday and Friday evenings, the place is always packed.
I arrived late on a Wednesday night the first time I drank at HELM. The place was empty, but SSMU was footing the tab, so I got luxuriously tanked on pint after pint of their Snake Bite (cider, blonde beer, and a swirl of cassis on top). This, by the way, is a perfect drink to order if you can’t take heavy beers and you want to look like a sassy lady. Just try saying, “I’ll have the snake bite” out loud right now. See what I mean?
Maybe it was the sugar-coated haze of the Snake Bite looming in the background, but my second visit to the brewery did not exactly improve upon the first.
My friend and I began by ordering 14-centilitre (cL) glasses of each of their micro-brewed beers: blonde, blanche, rousse, cream ale, noir, and IPA. The 14 cL glasses are $2.75 a piece, a nice option for taste testing. After a thorough tasting and an attempt to discuss the beers intelligently using phrases like “I’m tasting hints of coriander with a slightly gamey finish,” we deduced that the HELM Brewery is a great place to come for a drink after work, but it sure ain’t no Dieu du Ciel, the classic Montreal brewery on Laurier.
The sampling of beers we tasted was fairly generic in flavour, with the blonde as the favourite by a slight margin. The micro-brewed beers at HELM almost seem like an afterthought when compared to the unique and varied flavours offered at other microbreweries like Dieu du Ciel or Reservoir. A stout at HELM is just a stout, whereas the coffee-infused stout at Dieu will leave you cross-eyed for a good two hours.
The food at HELM measured up similarly. We ordered a Montreal staple, salmon gravlax served with crème fraiche and salad. Other than a surprisingly tasty and tangy mustard dressing on the salad, we were equally underwhelmed. Again, I couldn’t help but compare it to Reservoir, where I once had gravlax that brought me back into the world of the living the morning after a rough St. Patty’s Day.
HELM is a great, low-key place for drinks after work. It’s a big space, so unlike DDC, you won’t have any trouble getting a table. And if you value anonymity, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see any familiar McGill faces. There’s ping-pong on Sunday and Monday for any table tennis aficionados. However, as a microbrewery, HELM definitely falls short of heavyweights like DDC and Reservoir.
HELM Brasseur Gourmand is at 273 Bernard West.
Dieu du Ciel is at 29 Laurier West.
Réservoir is at 9 Duluth East.